By David Nickle
There’s a point in Rasputin’s Bastards where a character wakes up terrified because he doesn’t know who or where he is. Indeed, he isn’t even sure if he’s awake. What makes this particularly bothering to him is the fact that he is finding these sorts of dislocations becoming more the rule than the exception.
There’s a good reason for this. As the novel begins we are (literally) plunged into the climax of a struggle for global domination between powerful telepaths who were originally trained as psychic soldiers during the Cold War. And so the action takes place both in the real world (what initiates call “Physick”) and among avatars in airy “metaphors.” From Romania to Manhattan a rag-bag of spies, gangsters, and children of the damned are locked in a phantasmagoric battle royale.
Rasputin’s Bastards is Toronto author David Nickle’s most complex and ambitious work yet, and it’s a challenge to keep up with the sprawling plot and large cast of characters. At least one reader will confess to getting lost a couple of times along the way. But it’s hard not to warm to an SF thriller that has the fate of the world ultimately hinging on what happens in a remote fishing village in Labrador.
2 thoughts on “Rasputin’s Bastards”
Unlike Eutopia or Volk, which were dire and alarming (with perhaps subsurface veins of humor), this book has an openly wisecracking tone throughout, which kept me from believing it. It isn’t until the last chapters that the “struggle for global domination” starts to take coherent shape (if it ever does — it still feels like a struggle for a small village in Labrador). Until then I felt I was marking time, following the actions of the characters without being invested in them. I read all the way to the end but that was more of a struggle than the events of the book. The ‘Geisters is still on my list to read but I am approaching it cautiously after this one.
I think this is a book that got away from Nickle a bit. I think his best books are definitely Eutopia and Volk and his short story collection Monstrous Affections. If you haven’t read Monstrous Affections that’s what I’d recommend.